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TENET, the last 15/70mm show?

The 70mm Newsletter
Written and photographed by: Ramon Lamarca, UK Date: 26.09.2021
Ramon Lamarca protected by two storm troopers at the BFI IMAX cinema in London.

Approximately a decade and a half ago, my friend Brian Guckian and I dreamt of a future where there would be films printed on 15/70mm and 5/70mm alongside standard digital distribution. At that time (2007), few people thought that this could happen and it took visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan to do it and his latest film, "TENET", has been distributed this way, which includes 35mm prints.

• Go to 65/70mm Workshop
• Go to “Interstellar” at the BFI IMAX in London
• Go to "Interstellar" Goes IMAX 70MM and 5/70 MM
• Go to A Brief History of Wartime

I have seen all of Nolan’s 15/70 films at the London BFI Imax and, although the reviews for "TENET" were not that promising, I did not want to miss seeing the only 15/70mm print available in Europe, on its limited return post-COVID at the BFI Imax in July this year. The fact that there has been only one 70mm print in Europe is premonitory of the demise of this great format. The new, digital only, IMAX theatre in Leonberg (Germany), with the largest screen in the world (which does not preserve IMAX’s original aspect ratio) is probably the confirmation of the end for 15/70 screenings.

A proper IMAX theatre always makes the event special, as far removed from the multiplex experience as possible. There were some digital trailers before "TENET", for "The Suicide Squad" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings", both shot with IMAX digital cameras. Whereas real 15/70mm IMAX provides an immersive window to vast vistas, these trailers were just big, flat, on your face images. The comparison between these digital IMAX trailers and the real thing made me value it even more.
More in 70mm reading:

"Tenet" Reviewed in 70mm IMAX

65/70mm Workshop

"Tenet" Production Info

A Brief History of Wartime

"Interstellar" Goes IMAX 70MM and 5/70 MM

in70mm.com's IMAX Page
BFI IMAX projection room display of machines. From left a pair of IMAX digital projectors and in the middle an IMAX twin-rotor 70mm 3D machine.

I won’t go into the critical aspects of "TENET", they have been covered enough, let’s just say that I am not enamoured of its unnecessary convoluted plot. However, it is a visually astounding spectacle, Nolan knows how to frame for the IMAX format and screen and the opening of the film is a great example of it. It is a breathtaking experience, completely cinematic and it is completely impossible to reproduce it at home. The word ‘theatrical experience’ is completely apt for it. There are many beautifully shot scenes that serve the film perfectly; for instance, the verticality of the IMAX format is used to an impressive effect to film the scene with the Protagonist and Kat on top of a cliff.
BFI IMAX's screen with illuminated speakers behind the screen.

Nolan has demonstrated the value of using 15/70mm to create something unique and the advantage it provides across other formats. It is just a pity that not enough filmmakers have followed Nolan’s example to consolidate it and it looks like it is probably too late now. "No Time to Die", with some sequences shot in the format, will only be released digitally.

With Hollywood studios now mostly worried about digital platforms, the future does not look bright for 15/70mm origination/presentation. Nolan has left Warner Bros and gone to Universal and I wonder if he will also convince them to allow him to use IMAX cameras and film, I hope he does!

IMAX 15/70 cameras produce an unrivalled image, perfectly suited for the big screen and for a truly immersive theatrical experience. I have enjoyed all the Nolan’s film in 15/70 and this was no exception. In an era where audiovisuals are everywhere, to experience something so distinctively cinematic and unique is a privilege.
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Updated 21-01-24